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The Johnston Mission: President Eisenhower Report to Congress on the Johnston Negotiations

(July 1956)

In his report to the Congress for the year 1955, President Eisenhower described the course of Ambassador Eric Johnston's negotiations in an optimistic mood:

Throughout 1955 Ambassador Eric Johnston continued his negotiations with Israel on the one hand and Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon on the other, in an effort to obtain an understanding for the international development and full utilization of the waters of the Jordan River and its tributaries. His negotiations, which commenced in 1953, were originally based on plans prepared for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) by the Tennessee Valley Authority. An Arab Technical Committee presented certain counter-proposals, as did Israel, and these served as the basis for negotiations during 1954. Out of these early discussions certain fundamental principles were developed, and these principles, together with an important technical study prepared by the engineering firms of Michael Baker, Jr., Inc. and the Harza Company, became the basis for negotiations which by the year's end had developed an overall plan technically acceptable to all the interested States for the use and control of the Jordan waters.

Ambassador Johnston made two trips to the Near East for negotiations with the interested governments during the- year. Negotiations were also conducted with representatives of Israel in Washington. On the first of the two trips to the area, very substantial progress was made in reducing differences between the Arab position on the one hand and Israel's on the other. All the interested parties came to accept the necessity of coordinated water development and the probable utilization of Lake Tiberias as a main reservoir. No final understanding could be reached on the precise water allocations, although the differences were substantially reduced Subsequent to this trip, negotiations were conducted in Washington in an effort to obtain a precise definition of what Israel was prepared to agree upon.

From the middle of August to the middle of October, Ambassador Johnston was again in the Near East for further negotiations. By their end, all the major technical problems of an overall plan appeared to have been resolved satisfactorily.

Under the plan that evolved, approximately 60 percent of the water of the Jordan River system was to be allocated to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and the remaining 40 percent to Israel. In view of the Arab concern for ensuring maximum storage of water within Arab territory and Israel's increased interest in using Lake Tiberias as a reservoir in preference to earlier plans for reservoirs in the Galilee Plains, it was decided to postpone the decision on the use of Lake Tiberias for five years, during which possible alternative sites for the economic storage of Arab waters are to be explored. If no economic storage scheme could be found by the end of the period, water over and above that to be stored at Magaren on the Yarmuk River would be stored in Lake Tiberias.

The various engineering surveys that had been made indicated that by the systems of dam structures and irrigation canals contemplated in the plan all the area in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan that could be economically irrigated would be served by the water allocations and facilities to be constructed.

The basic rights and responsibilities of a neutral international authority were also accepted by both sides. These elements included the use of impartial and technically skilled personnel who would have established means for ensuring the delivery of waters when and as scheduled, would have ready access to the water course of the river system, would be able to make prompt detections of any possible violations, but would operate with the minimum of interference in the affairs and control of the States concerned. An essential element of the system is that it is by way of being automatically self-enforcing.

At the end of Ambassador Johnston's second visit to the area in 1955, only formal political concurrence on the plan remained to be obtained.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs